How to Eat an Elephant …

For those of you not familiar with the conundrum question, “How do you eat an elephant?” , the answer is one bite at a time. I always knew that writing my book was going to be an elephant-sized task, hence my cunning plan to break this process down into daily comestible servings of 2000 words at a time.

Consistency and persistence were to be my watchwords, and in order to hold myself accountable I’ve been tracking my daily performance. It’s been most satisfying to see the daily tally add up and I’ve been basking in smug self-congratulation – until things went horribly wrong this week.

It all began with the weather. As previously flagged, I was looking forward to the first of my exploratory French adventures on my Saturday off. However, a consultation with the weather forecaster indicated that it was going to rain pretty much non-stop from Friday through until Monday. Thursday, on the other hand, was scheduled to be a gorgeous day. Why not just switch things around a bit and go to Narbonne on Thursday instead of Saturday?

And so I did.

Narbonne is a small town of 47,000 people, a short skip from the Mediterranean coast, and a cruisy half-hour by train from Carcassonne. It’s most famous for its Roman origins and was a major hub back in the first couple of hundred years AD. In the town square they have unearthed a section of the Via Domitia , an ancient Roman trade route between Italy and Spain, and beneath the modern streets lie a labyrinth of underground galleries, the horreum. Narbonne was also the regional headquarters of the Catholic church and there is a magnificent archbishops palace, complete with tower and dungeons, next to an impressive cathedral.

The town itself is very pretty, sitting on the Canal de la Robine, and today it is know as a destination for wine and food lovers. I lucked out, because Thursday is one of the market days in Narbonne and I had a lovely time wandering through the street market along Les Barques Promenade. and visiting the town’s famous covered market, Les Halles.

Flower market

Between 9 am and 3 p.m. I visited absolutely every attraction in the old city, including spending a couple of hours in the Art and History Museum in the Palais des Archevêques, with plenty of time just ambling through the cobbled streets and sampling some local ice-cream.

Canal de la Robine

It was a full day, but it wasn’t extreme enough to account for the absolute lethargy that struck me on Friday. As soon as I woke up I knew I wasn’t going to be writing that day. No morning walk. No coffee in the Place Carnot. I didn’t even turn on the computer. It was a complete and utter collapse.

And then of course the guilt kicked in. The problem with vigorously imposed self-discipline is that when it breaks down it offers unlimited potential to beat yourself up. I needed to hit 30,000 words by the end of this week, and there I was with only 26,000 under my belt, hiding in bed with the sheets pulled over my head. I writhed with self-disgust.

Perhaps it was the grizzly, grey day which poured with rain, as predicted. Perhaps my body thought it was Sunday after my illicit faux-Saturday the day before, and that I was therefore fully entitled to loll about doing nothing. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.

Perhaps I should add resilience to persistence and consistency in my armoury of writing watchwords. On Saturday I girded up my loins and decided I simply had to get on with it. I was determined to to let one bad day derail the bigger elephant-eating plan. Cheered on by my weekly flowers, a lovely nodding bunch of peonies (charmingly called pivoines in French) I returned to the keyboard with a vengeance, bashing out a gratifying 2428 words. If I can manage another 1500 today I’ll be back on track.


So where does this resilience come from? I think it’s partly the solid work ethic drummed into me by my parents who always encouraged me to bounce back up, dust myself off and try again whenever I was knocked down by one of life’s challenges. And perhaps it stems from early reading influences. My sister Tracy reminded me this week of one of my very favourite books as a child, The Little Engine That Could. Like the little blue engine my mantra is “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And so I do.

I’m also encouraged by the way my story is developing. The characters are really coming alive for me and though I don’t have the temerity to claim that I’m penning deathless prose, I do think its pretty entertaining. Before he left, HWB read the first chapter and I was thoroughly gratified when at one point he laughed out loud. And Rachel of the fierce green editing pen, who is the only other person who has been permitted a glimpse of the Work In Progress, has been pleased to bestow a LOL upon me. I haven’t previously said that I wanted this book to be funny, but I do, and the fact that two preliminary readers have had a giggle suggests I might be on the right track.

I can see that my self-imposed diet of elephant steak has the potential to get a bit wearing. But I’m chewing on valiantly …